What Is A Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a short (less than 15 minutes) episode of intense fear that often is accompanied by physical symptoms and feelings of doom. A panic attack differs from a normal fear response because it strikes without the presence of a threat or an oncoming attack.
What Is A Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder occurs when someone has panic attacks so often that they begin to spend a significant amount of their time worrying about having another attack, worrying that they are losing their mind, or changing their daily routine because of the panic attacks. If this lasts for a month or more, Panic Disorder is diagnosed.
What Causes Panic Attacks And Disorders?
Some people are aware of events or circumstances that might trigger an attack and know how to avoid them or be prepared. Most, however, are frequently caught off guard, with little or no warning to alert them. Common reasons why a panic attack may occur include:
- Major life stress
- Family history
- Abnormalities in the brain
- Substance abuse
Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder Treatment
While panic attacks may be one of the most terrifying and unpleasant experiences a person can endure, the good news is that panic attacks and disorders respond exceptionally well to treatment. Like most anxiety disorders, both medications and psychotherapy are effective for panic disorder. Many people fully recover from panic disorder without the use of medications, but anti-anxiety medications are sometimes used depending upon the frequency and severity of attacks. The most effective therapy for panic disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Panic Disorder
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Involves understanding the correlations between one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and using these connections to unravel the patterns of one's anxiety.
- ABCtracker™: The ABCTracker™, a CBT-based self-help program, was created by psychiatrists and psychologists at UCLA. Since its creators specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders, the program is geared towards better understanding your own personal anxiety.
Medications for Panic Disorder
There are several different classes of medications that are used to treat panic disorder. All of these types of medications reduce anxiety but do so in different ways and with different side effects and risks.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): This class of medication works by increasing the signaling between neurons that use a chemical called serotonin to communicate with each other. This increase in serotonin-mediated signaling decreases anxiety. SSRIs are taken every day regardless of anxiety level and usually take 6-8 weeks to reach full effect. The following drugs are classified as SSRIs: fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox).
- Benzodiazepines: Effective medication for anxiety, common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax). These medications are not as widely used as they once were because unlike SSRIs, they have the potential to cause addiction and potentially dangerous withdrawal syndromes if they are abruptly stopped after being taken for a prolonged period of time.
- Others: There are several other medications that are sometimes prescribed for anxiety and are not SSRIs or benzodiazepines. These include gabapentin (Neurontin), quetiapine (Seroquel), and hydroxyzine (Atarax).